Posts Tagged ‘Fourth Amendment’

From cops to soldiers: the American police state and the militarization of law enforcement.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm by

These are busy times for the Border Patrol, the custom agents, immigration folks; but if we are going to send these agencies to fight a war on drugs, to fight a war against illegal behavior, we have to send them the proper tools.

– Then-Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner

Since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in June 1971, the United States has spent nearly $1 trillion on a vicious campaign that has served as a means to subjugate, terrorize, and control. Nonviolent drug abuse violations remain the single most common offense, accounting for over 1.5 million individuals arrested in 2012.

SWAT

With the rate of unsolved homicides skyrocketing over the past 50 years, it is has become increasingly clear that the failed War on Drugs has only perpetuated violence on the streets of America’s most destitute communities. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff, “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” Despite the seemingly obvious facts that speak against these tough-on-crime policies, the war wages on throughout the nation, as low-income communities and communities of color continue to be targeted in an effort to destabilize the urban family.

This rise of militarism in American policing has come about without public discussion, and is often accompanied with a lack of both local and federal oversight. Maryland stands as the only state in the country that requires law enforcement agencies with a SWAT team to submit semi-annual deployment information, a law that was enacted after a small-town mayor was held at gunpoint for hours by the Prince George County SWAT team on false pretenses.  The SWAT team proceeded to murder two of his dogs.

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PCLOB flops on Internet spying

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm by

Today, the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) released a major report on the National Security Agency’s Internet surveillance programs. Earlier this year, the PCLOB took a strong stance against telephony spying under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, correctly describing it as both illegal and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the PCLOB’s latest report is a vast disappointment, failing to reflect the same independence apparent in its first report and deferring to the government despite stronger calls for reform from Congress, as well as a recent Supreme Court decision, that should have emboldened the PCLOB.

BORDC is hardly alone in expressing disappointment in the PCLOB’s findings. The American Library Association’s Adam Eisgrau noted that “despite the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, the Board essentially endorses the use of general warrants to search through the content of unimaginable numbers of communications of millions of Americans….”

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The Court finally shows up for work (Part II)

Monday, June 30, 2014 at 8:12 am by

Part I of this series explained the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California, and why it represents so dramatic an evolution from prior cases where the Court failed to grasp the implications of digital technology for the privacy values pervading the Bill of Rights. This follow-up post explains the social forces animating the decision, with crucial implications for any number of social issues going forward.

Where it came from: is the Court “in front,” or behind?

It remains important to recognize how a broader social debate made possible last week’s decision in Riley v. California. Only in examining the influence of mass debate on elite legal discourse can we understand how digital privacy — or other contested rights — will evolve in the future.

A long-running debate among legal theorists questions whether, and how, courts are influenced by broader public debates beyond the courtroom. On the one hand, courts are inherently reactive institutions.

On the other hand, courts have occasionally advanced justice while the political branches remain mired in majoritarian prejudice: in Brown vs Board, the Court — not Congress — forced desegregation on the South, just as Goodridge v. Dep’t of Public Health placed a Massachusetts court near the front of the marriage equality movement (disclosure: I was part of the legal team representing the mayor of new Paltz, NY in a 2004 marriage equality case).

Brown vs. Board is relevant not only in demonstrating an example of the Court’s occasional proactivity, but also in rejecting “separate but equal” systems for people of different races. Lost in most commentary about the Riley decision has been an awareness of its serious implications for race, which in turn help reveal whether Riley reflects a Court “out in front,” or instead, one lagging behind American society.

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Government spying on the peace movement (Part I)

Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm by

The fight against government repression of free speech suffered a setback in Washington State this month, as a judicial ruling in the Panagacos vs. Towery case turned a blind eye to government infiltration of peaceful activist groups. The decision reflects not only the latest failure by the federal judiciary to do its job, but also a disturbing history dating back decades, and over five years in this particular case of constitutional abuses by intelligence and police agencies, as well as the US military.

In July 2009, activists in Olympia, WA went public with the shocking revelation that an intelligence contractor hired by the U.S. Army named John Towery had infiltrated the antiwar group Olympia Port Militarization resistance.

For almost two years, Towery — known to activists by a false name, “John Jacob” — had administered the group’s email listserv, attended meetings and demonstrations and unsuccessfully attempted to coerce young college students to commit acts of violence. Towery’s true identity was discovered by several members of the group after cop-watcher Drew Hendricks combed through thousands of pages of public records using a technique known as “cataloging”.

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The Court finally shows up for work (Part I)

Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:11 pm by

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Riley v. California and US v Wurie has been hailed as a breakthrough for digital privacy, and it is. Lost in most celebration of the Court finally joining the 20th century, however, is an understanding of how it got there. Why this ruling came down in 2014 is crucial to understand for future debates over any number of issues.

A watershed case: the Court acknowledges digital privacy

Riley represents the first time the Supreme Court has even attempted to meaningfully embrace the privacy issues presented by the digital age.

A recent prior case, US vs Jones, addressed GPS tracking by local police. Jones vindicated checks on runaway executive power, though not on privacy grounds. While the Jones ruling rejected extended police GPS surveillance without a warrant, it did so on property grounds, protecting for landowners interests denied to others (namely, anyone who parks a car on a street, rather than behind a fence).

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NSA? The Postal Service is watching you, too

Monday, June 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm by

With the ongoing debate about mass spying by the NSA, many Americans are reconsidering their reliance on telephone and electronic communications. But is it safe to trust the US Postal Service (USPS)? You may not want to know….

In 2013, the Postal Inspection Service processed tens of thousands of mail covers, and also “photograph[ed] the exterior of every piece of paper mail” processed by the USPS through the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program revealed last year.

Last July, the New York Times explained that “Snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.”

A Postal Service Inspector General report released last month suggests that even the more restrained mail cover program should raise concerns.

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House moves to rein in NSA Internet surveillance

Friday, June 20, 2014 at 11:13 am by

A year after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed pervasive dragnet spying by the National Security Agency, Congress has finally begun to take action. Last night, the House “unexpectedly and overwhelmingly” voted in favor of a measure imposing two major limits on the NSA’s domestic dragnet.

By a wide and revealing margin, 293 Representatives came together across party lines to approve an amendment to a military spending bill that — if ultimately signed into law after agreement in the Senate – could deny funding to two particular NSA abuses.

First, the amendment aims to effectively prohibit NSA queries taking advantage of a “backdoor search loophole” (in which the NSA collects information about Americans by designating a foreigner with whom they communicate as the ”target” of their search). It would also prohibit the NSA from building security vulnerabilities into tech products made in the US, as it has for “computers, hard drives, routers, and other devices from companies such as Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, Samsung and Huawei.”

Members of Congress from both major parties expressed the widespread popular outrage underlying the vote. According to a joint statement by Representatives Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Lofgren (D-CA), and Massie (R-KY), “Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs.” Rep. Massie also put it more colorfully, explaining that ”The American people are sick of being spied on,” evoking the words of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who sharply criticized “this dragnet spying on millions of Americans.”

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Redacted Tonight features BORDC’s Shahid Buttar on NSA spying

Monday, June 2, 2014 at 8:39 am by

This past Friday, RT premiered a new news comedy program, Redacted Tonight. The program’s inaugural episode featured BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, who explained some shortcomings of the USA Freedom Act that recently passed the House, before later encouraging his interviewer’s lyrical creativity.

June 5th is Coming: Actions on the Anniversary of the First Snowden Release

Monday, May 26, 2014 at 10:57 am by

This post was originally published by Danny O’Brien at EFF’s Deeplinks blog on May 22, 2014 and is shared with permission.

June 5, 2013 was when the world heard from Snowden. This year, it’s your turn to speak out.

On June 5, 2013 the Guardian newspaper published the first of Edward Snowden’s astounding revelations. The secret court order that conclusively showed that the US government was collecting the phone records of millions of innocent Verizon customers. It was the first of a continuous stream of stories that pointed out what we’ve suspected for a long time: that the world’s digital communications are being continuously spied upon by nation states with precious little oversight.

A year later, we’re still learning about operations conducted globally by the United States and its closest allies in defiance of billions of people’s fundamental freedoms. We’ve discovered that the US government has confidential systems in place to scoop up data from American Internet companies. We’ve learned that the British equivalent, GCHQ, has taken millions of snapshots of Webcam images as they eavesdrop on the Internet backbone. We’ve seen encryption standards undermined, an entire country’s  telephone conversations recorded, and five billion records of phone locations globally recorded per day.

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BORDC’s Shahid Buttar explains bait & switch on NSA spying

Saturday, May 24, 2014 at 10:19 am by

On Thursday, May 22, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on RT America’s evening news program to explain how the bipartisan Washington establishment co-opted the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill had passed two House committees seeking to reform NSA surveillance before the House leadership gutted it with White House support in a back room deal on Wednesday.

He explained that:

We don’t yet know how broadly the NSA is spying on the American people. We only have glimpses into the tips of the iceberg…. There has been no meaningful investigation into what is actually happening. Congress has been legislating in the dark for over a decade, and…continue[s] to do so, now, even after a year of establishing that it’s been getting lied to for the last ten years…. Congress should be much more skeptical of the agencies.